A nation may stop daydreaming of having a strong foreign policy in the face of diminishing credibility, weak economic indicators, regular political upheavals, a feeble judicial system, serious governance issues and a demoralised Foreign Service. In such a grim domestic situation, even a U Thant of diplomacy would feel handicapped in defending one’s capital’s standpoint.
Questions are being raised on the ‘failing’ foreign policy of Pakistan. Is the troika of foreign policy, comprising the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and the Foreign Secretary, with the active and sincere support of all serving and retired members of the Foreign Service good enough to reverse the tide? Include in it the inputs from other stakeholders and ask the same question again. Sadly, the answer is not in the affirmative. The combination of a bold Prime Minister, an astute Foreign Minister and a hardworking Foreign Secretary along with those who wield power of making last minute changes may succeed in getting some supportive nods from a few friendly countries. It is certainly not enough to formulate a strong and favourable foreign policy.
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Foreign policy is not about issuing bold statements or making ornate suggestions or urging the world to do the right thing. It is almost impossible to hoodwink the contemporary digitised world with insubstantial statements. Such hollow claims are not taken seriously by the international community unless one’s own house is in order. One must be able to possess the requisite will and more importantly the power to substantiate such statements. Otherwise, mere speeches and statements invariably fall on deaf ears or bring grins to the faces of friends and foes alike. In the event of a country reflecting delightfully strong domestic indicators, one would not even be worried a bit to ask one’s diplomats to ‘do more’. The road of diplomacy would already be placid and easy to ride on.
Intertwined with the domestic socio-politico-economic situation, the foreign policy of a country cannot be shaped by hiring expensive foreign policy experts or revamping the bureaucratic system or posting ‘good Ambassadors’ at important Embassies. Neither can friends be won in the international arena without possessing either the power to inflict timely harm or render assistance at critical junctures.
Instead of following the Chinese, Turkish or Sri Lankan models, which were developed and followed as per the vision, strengths and weaknesses of these countries in the respective given times, let us develop an indigenously chalked out Pakistani model that caters for the needs and aspirations of the people of the country. No ‘outside-the-box’ thinking may be entertained before thoroughly examining what is ‘inside the box’.
Long-term planning for enjoying a favourable foreign policy must include the cherished objective of attaining a comfortable level of economic stability while being cognisant of the fact that a solid economic policy would invariably entail certain tough decisions. Secondly, no new promises may be made unless the previous ones are fulfilled or modified. Brilliant people like Dr Ishrat Hussain should not be wasted on inventing the wheel in the civil service. They should be requested to reflect and come up with a doable and concrete Pakistan-orientated economic policy that may be acceptable to the successive governments as well. Meanwhile, without harming anyone’s interests, small steps can be initiated to assure the masses of the government’s honesty of purpose such as lowering the prices of utilities, school fees and medicines, satiating the people’s desire to have a caring government. IMF or no IMF, the people of Pakistan need an immediate relief package from the State.
Political stability and confidence of the people of Pakistan in their leadership may be set as a medium-term goal. Instead of relying on one’s instincts or extending favours to one’s favourites, all political decisions must be based on economic interests of the country. Leaving aside the decision to go nuclear in May 1998, there hasn’t been a single decision in the past four decades that Pakistan took while exhibiting strength in the foreign policy domain. On the other hand, Pakistan is gradually running short of friends in the comity of nations while also losing space for effective negotiation. Hence, the assertion that Islamabad’s foreign policy is failing is not without justification.
However, to say that five years is not sufficient time to at least set the ball rolling in the right direction is the negation of one’s diplomatic and political prowess. Such an approach tends to deprecate one’s knowledge of history and political science. The leadership, movers and shakers of the country may demonstrate the will to put Pakistan on the right track with honesty of purpose while looking beyond their specified terms and tenures.
In the short term, if we cannot make peace with enemies, let us strive to bring our old friends back while striving to make new ones. Let us mean what we say and say what we mean. For instance, announcing the ‘Look Africa Policy’ or admitting the importance of South America is meaningless if certain practical measures are not taken to translate these intentions into reality. We need to understand that Togo, Botswana, Bolivia and Peru have the same voting rights in the UN General Assembly as those of the US, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. The foreign policy narrative must cater for these hitherto neglected continents.
The Foreign Office, being the focal point for both proposing a policy and subsequently implementing it, must be allowed to offer fresh ideas and proposals without fear or favour. Its role must not only be limited to the day-to-day firefighting or suggesting talking points for meetings or making country briefs. Exigently subsists a dire need of introducing certain measures to boost the morale of the serving Officers of the Foreign Service beginning with streamlining the policy of postings and promotions and increasing their allowances according to the standard UN-based criteria. They are the ones who need motivation to project and promote the national interest of Pakistan abroad. Give them their due respect to earn respect for the country.
Explaining one’s strategic vision and thoughtful reflections in intellectual frameworks could come in handy when delivering a speech at an international forum. One could also dream about leading the leaders of the world after making a presentation on one’s Vision-2050. However, a favourable foreign policy could only be achieved through consistently taking hardcore measures in the internal socio-political and economic domains with honesty of purpose. Gone are the days of eating grass while manufacturing an atomic bomb. We have learned albeit through the hard way that one’s atomic know-how does not help in bringing prosperity or lowering the prices of utilities.